Political Appointees Gone Wild

File under funny if it wasn't true. Daily Kos today ran a story about one of President Bush's newest appointees:

President Bush has announced his plan to select Dr. W. David Hager to head up the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. The committee has not met for more than two years, during which time its charter lapsed. As a result, the Bush Administration is tasked with filling all eleven positions with new members. This position does not require Congressional approval.

The FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee makes crucial decisions on matters relating to drugs used in the practice of obstetrics, gynecology and related specialties, including hormone therapy, contraception, treatment for infertility, and medical alternatives to surgical procedures for sterilization and pregnancy termination.

Dr. Hager is the author of "As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now." The book blends biblical accounts of Christ healing women with case studies from Hager's practice. His views of reproductive health care are far outside the mainstream for reproductive technology. Dr. Hager is a practicing OB/GYN who describes himself as "pro-life" and refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women.

In the book Dr. Hager wrote with his wife, entitled "Stress and the Woman's Body," he suggests that women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome should seek help from reading the bible and praying. As an editor and contributing author of "The Reproduction Revolution: A Christian Appraisal of Sexuality Reproductive Technologies and the Family," Dr. Hager appears to have endorsed the medically inaccurate assertion that the common birth control pill is an abortifacient.

The original story linked is here. Strangely, as Kos points out later in the story, this is old news. Seems Hager was appointed in 2003 and actually was just signed up for another year. No one, so far, is sure how the story got out that he was a new appointee.

Nonetheless, I find it amusing that a man is trying to tell women with irregular or painful PMS that they should "pray" to solve their problems. This would be similar to telling someone with a tumor to "pray" that it goes away. My former piano teacher was able to heal her husband of cancer with healthy eating(they were basically vegan) and prayer. He was too weak for chemotherapy, she had no choice. However, even she admits there are many cases where the only solution is medication. He was extremely lucky and his cancer wasn't very widespread. Furthermore, he did in fact medicate, with a number of vitamins, minerals and a few low-level prescriptions.

Back to Dr. Hager, Kos posted some more info later in the day. The link comes from leftist relgious magazine The Revealer and their story covering Hager in August:

The appointment of anti-abortion and anti-birth control advocate Dr. W. David Hager to the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee apparently seems like such an oxymoron that, two years later, people still can’t believe it happened. Emails urging protest of Bush’s appointment still circulate, and the Urban Legends Reference Pages website has had to dedicate a webpage to the issue, Status: True.

But Hager, a member of Focus on the Family and author of the book, As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now, really was appointed, really was reappointed this June, and as Mother Jones’s Chris Mooney reports, really does exert a powerful influence on women’s health policy.

Last December Hager successfully kept “Plan B” emergency contraception pills from being sold over the counter, despite being in the minority of a 23-4 vote, and the testimony of another physician on the panel that the drug was “‘the safest product we have seen brought before us.’” This veto required the FDA to take the unusual step of ignoring the panel’s and its own staff’s recommendations. They instead cited Hager’s opposition -- what former FDA commissioner Donald Kennedy calls a “‘political fig leaf’” -- that the drug hadn’t been tested widely enough on adolescents.

But still, in what is becoming a familiar refrain from members of the Bush administration, the modest Hager argues that "he is being miscast 'as some kind of powerful individual,'" even as his officially-heeded objections clash with his public statements on the issue. Speaking to The New York Times’s Gina Kolata last December, Hager said Plan B would encourage promiscuity among young people, who "could just buy the drug on their own." He did not mention the complaint he’d brought before the FDA panel of "inadequate" sampling of teenagers, but rather spoke of the "'individuals who did not want to take responsibility for their actions and wanted a medication to relieve those consequences.'" Later Times articles on the FDA’s refusal to grant over-the-counter access to the pill failed to mention Hager at all.

While it certainly makes reporters' jobs harder to have to parse through demurrals like Hager's, or more recently, the post-scandal claims of administration apologists arguing for Deal Hudson's relative unimportance to Bush, it should be something they're used to by now. It's a lesson from more than four years ago: As Bush said, when they speak, we will know their hearts; when they act, we'll know their reasons too.

For those who refuse to click the link, indeed there is an urban legend page about the good doctor. Here's their summary, which also sheds some light on why this is hitting the news again:

In December 2002, W. David Hager was one of eleven physicians appointed to the Food and Drug Administration's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs, a commitee whose job it is to evaluate data and make recommendations on the safety and effectiveness of marketed and experimental drugs for use in obstetrics, gynecology, and related specialties. Dr. Hager is a part-time professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University Kentucky College of Medicine and a well-known specialist on gynecologic infections, and therefore at first blush his appointment to this committee would seem a good fit.

However, he is also vehemently pro-life and has vigorously played a part in the campaign to get the FDA to withdraw its approval of mifepristone (RU-486), a drug that terminates pregnancies. He is indeed the author of a number of books in which he's advocated prayer and the reading of the Scriptures as cures for medical ills.

Dr. Hager makes no bones about his beliefs but says they won't compromise his judgment: "Yes, I'm pro-life. But that's not going to keep me from objectively evaluating medication. I believe there are some safety concerns (about mifepristone) and they should be evaluated."

Contrary to the claim made in the now widely-circulated e-mail decrying his appointment, Dr. Hager says he does not deny birth-control prescriptions to unmarried women. However, Time magazine reported that "In his private practice, two sources familiar with it say, Hager refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women."

The appointment is a done deal, and Dr. Hager is now part of this committee (although, perhaps as a result of the controversy raised by this message, he was not appointed to chair the committee).

In June 2004, Dr. Hager was reappointed to the committee for a further year. Immediately after the re-election of President Bush, the e-mail decrying the appointment of Dr. Hager was circulated anew.

The internet is a wonderful source of info, but people are so easily misled if they don't research what they're reading. I guess it's kinda weird so many blogs began discussing the issue today when it so obviously is very old news. But then, everyone's looking for something to talk about other than the election, if you can call it that.

Please note that the UL page does indicate that Hager was not picked to head the committee, probably because of the stink put out as he was nominated for the position.

One of the main issues discussed in that last link is Dr. Hager's work to ban RU-486, a controversial drug which, despite many other possible uses, can be used for short-term abortions. While I think the abortion side of it does sound a bit strange, extensive testing has been done on the pill and the medical community has expressed that it may be useful as treatment of many other conditions:

certain breast cancers
ovarian cancer
meningioma(brain tumour)
Cushing's syndrome
adrenal cancer
uterine fibroid tumours
induction of labour
cervical ripening

Sounds like a useful drug, if you ask me. Yet Dr. Hager wants it banned solely because he doesn't approve of the possible birth control uses, not because it's unsafe. Of course, that's about as intelligent as asking for a ban on steak knives. I mean, sure, they're useful for digging into a t-bone, but we all know they could be used to harm fetuses (or fully developed humans).
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